Is There A Place For Over-30 MBA Applicants?
Is 40 the new 30?
Not if you want to start a full-time MBA program.
That’s the stereotype, I’m afraid. Once you pass the 30 year mark, the academic world supposedly looks at you differently. Suddenly, you’re out of touch and set in your ways, unable to keep up and too late to the party. Your classmates will tease you about grunge and ask for stories about life before the internet. Experience is an asset – but only the right amount. If you miss the sweet spot—being 27-29 without big paychecks or family ties to hold you down – people naturally wonder if you can step away from your comforts and put your nose to the ground.
Truth or fiction? It’s a bit of both, actually. In a recent Forbes column Matt Symonds, director of Fortuna Admissions, outlines the benefits and drawbacks of being a post-30 candidate seeking full-time admissions. First, here’s the good news: There’s hope. According to Symonds, programs like Columbia Business School and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, you’ll find 40-somethings gleefully sitting alongside their twentysomething cohorts. And the Wharton School and MIT’s Sloan School of Management are known to bring professionals with 15 years of experience for something other than guest speakers.
On a personal note, Symonds adds that 85% of his age 30 or over clients gained admission to a top school.
In fact, Symonds clicks off several benefits that 30+ students bring to a full-time MBA community. One, of course, is a longer track record of achievement, which gives older candidates an advantage in the application process. “You have some great stories to tell in your written application and interviews about your impressive accomplishments and how these are indicative of your personal motivation for both professional and personal success,” Symonds writes. Even more, those experiences are bound to broaden and enrich classroom discussions, showing how strategies, pressures, and tradeoffs truly play out in the real world.
That said, Symonds also rolls out a long list of downsides for older candidates – from an admissions vantage point, at least. One can be summed up this way: ‘Why here, why now?’ “Business schools know from experience that many strong candidates usually apply early in their career, i.e. in their twenties,” Symonds points out. “The most ambitious high achievers want to get their MBA as soon as possible. Top schools want these students in their classes, and know that such candidates are not going to wait around. Competition between schools for bright young talent is fierce.” Bottom line: Younger talent is considered a value add in many cases, while older professionals are more of a commodity.
Another is a perceived deficit in “flexibility” (Talk about a code world). “It is widely felt that young, energized, and highly motivated candidates can still be trained, molded, and made to conform,” Symonds observes. “On the other hand, an older candidate may be more set in their ways and not be as open to new ideas.”
And those aren’t necessarily adcom sentiments – and Symonds takes pains to show they’re not his own. However, Symonds concedes that “business schools cater to what employers want.” Many times, that is whip smart cheap labor who don’t ask (too many) questions and can be available on a moment’s notice. “Recruiters know that an entry-level, post-MBA job requires tremendous energy, motivation, and sacrifice because of the long hours, travel, and complete focus,” Symonds adds. “Some older job candidates may not want to or even be mentally and physically be able to perform this way. In some cases, what about family?”
Even more, Symonds relays that some decision-makers also presume the presence of older students could hinder class cohesion, tying this sentiment to “teamwork” and “fit” (two more code words). “Recruiters want to encourage [teamwork and fit] by cultivating an atmosphere where students with similar attributes and goals will recognize and feed on the talents of others, ultimately learning to work well together on a level playing field,” Symonds shares. “This can often make the placement of an older candidate more difficult. An older candidate might feel either consciously or subconsciously that “I know more because I’ve been out there learning from experience.” While most b-schools extol the virtues of diversity in terms of race, gender, and experience, there are limits when it comes to age. “Age differences create cultural differences,” Symonds adds.
Can 30-something candidates overcome these preconceptions – or are they mostly relegated to EMBA and online programs? Here, Symonds offers several helpful hints.
He starts by encouraging these candidates to develop clear goals and plans. “More so than younger candidates,” Symonds writes, “you must have a solid plan, concrete ideas, and be able shine a bright light on the fact that you would be a valuable asset because of your experience and knowledge.”
Just as important, those plans must be realistic, particularly since Symonds notes that older students may end up working at a lower level position and potentially making less money. “Make sure that your career goals are consistent with what’s realistic for an older student (i.e. don’t expect to work for McKinsey if you already have 10+ years of work experience),” he writes. “You don’t want the school to have any doubts about how you’ll impact the job placement stats. It’s important to have an articulate plan that is achievable given your profile, and leverages the additional experience you bring.”
Most important, Symonds argues that older candidates should tap their network to identify how to position themselves as the lowest risk and highest upside candidates. “You should also focus on how you can convey that you’ll be a good fit for the school’s student community. Emphasize your level of engagement in the community and commitment to a particular passion or hobby. With these strong attributes, you must research and discover where you will be the best fit…Come up with a reason that turns your extra years of experience into an advantage. Have a good reason for why now is the best time for you to apply, and the anticipated success and impact you’ll have with the MBA. Underline the value of your additional experience and deeper perspective that you will bring to the program.”
To read the full article, click on the Forbes link below.
DON’T MISS: GETTING INTO B-SCHOOL WHEN YOU’RE 30+